There’s little to divide sports entertainment and mainstream culture. In many ways, they are the same.
What happened Thursday, though, may be one of the few instances in history where sports extends much deeper than that: When a police officer is properly charged with the fatal shooting of a clearly unarmed black man, weeks after a sports related protest begins.
49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick sat. He took a knee the next week, a response to the helpful critiques issued to him by former service members around him.
And then the Tulsa County district attorney sat, kneeled, and made their mark, charging Tulsa officer Betty Shelby with manslaughter — a charge that is fitting and tough to defend in court with the mounting evidence.
The number of police officers convicted of murder in 2015? Zero. 2014? Zero. According to the Huffington Post, there have only been 13 police officers convicted of murder or manslaughter since 2005.
A select few police officers had been charged with murder before, such as Johannes Mehserle, a BART police officer who shot Oscar Grant in the back, when the young man was being physically restrained and posed no threat.
Mehserle was charged with murder, a count that some legal experts have argued was incredibly difficult to prosecute because the burden of proof includes intent. Manslaughter does not.
Manslaughter in Oklahoma is defined in several ways, most pertinently as a homicide committed unnecessarily either while resisting an attempt by the deceased to commit a crime, or after such an attempt failed, according to FindLaw.com.
Windows up, no gun and the helicopter pilot flying overhead saying that 40-year-old Terrence Crutcher looked like a bad dude, with only two visible indicators: that he was black and wearing a white t-shirt and jeans.
If the motive for the pilot to say such things wasn’t racial, I must be the worst — my daily attire has been predominantly a white tee and blue jeans since about 1999.
If only we were all so naive.
Asked one week ago during a speaking engagement in front of media studies students about whether sports journalism was “the candy shop of journalism,” I agreed, though the stance taken by Kaepernick wasn’t lost.
“There was Jackie Robinson and Muhammad Ali,” I told the class, “but something that separates them from Kaepernick at this point is widespread action and change. If there are changes, whether it be legislation or something else, then we can really begin to see the importance.”
And he were are, one week later, with something potentially damning.
It’s unlikely that any Tulsa county employee will go on the record and indicate that Kaepernick or any other sports figure had an impact in the decision to charge Shelby. But it’s hard not to do some math, and wonder.
What happened with Mehserle and Grant was nearly one of a kind.
Mehserle was charged, though acquitted, and even the officers involved in the killings of Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, Dontre Hamilton, John Crawford III, Michael Brown Jr., Ezell Ford, Dante Parker, Tanisha Anderson, Tamir Rice, Rumain Brisbon, Jerame Reid, Tony Robinson, Phillip White, and Walter Scott — all black and unarmed and killed over the last 36 months — were never charged, despite masses of evidence.
To the credit of Tulsa and its legal system, 44-year-old resident Eric Harris was shot by a reserve deputy in April 2015, and deputy Robert Bates was charged with manslaughter.
Popular culture — sports and otherwise — is beginning to intersect with policing and government. It might not be as impactful as it perhaps should, and it’s a subject that could take years, maybe decades, to reach a proper resolution.
Results are coming, though, and even if it’s not matching the pace of unarmed black folks being unjustly murdered by police officers who are frequently let off the hook, it is something.
Not enough to be content, but certainly enough to show material results. Not enough to ever even begin to make up for the loss of life. Not enough to aid in the emotional and physical distress to the families of the departed.
But enough to where other athletes that have pondered taking action but not taken the next step, might. And in reality, those who don’t after this week should be ashamed. That includes Warriors guard Stephen Curry, who for all of his kindness and well-doing, has failed at every corner to take a stance on social issues.
“I have a son and a daughter that I’m responsible for. So how would I be if one day they come home and there’s no more daddy?”
Our society is far from perfect. The racial inequality in America, while vastly improved over the last century, is nowhere near where it should be. We still have parts of the Bay Area, one of the most open, forgiving, and tolerant regions of the world, that has it’s scars.
The Coliseum corridor in Oakland is one.
Evidence of redlining, white fright, and other economic mechanisms that have absolutely kept the black man down are everywhere from San Antonio Park to 105th avenue. Our prison population indicates that our society doesn’t give enough thought, effort and activity into rectifying the actions of our fathers and their fathers.
In fact, the most socio-economically diverse part of the Bay Area is Marin County. Where Northern California’s oldest prison sits miles away from the abodes of the state’s wealthiest group of people.
The two groups don’t interact much.
In sports, sometimes the losing team has to champion the small victories in order to reach the ultimate goal. Bad teams don’t become good overnight, and horrible teams can take decades to get to the championship levels they crave.
The charges brought on Shelby by Tulsa County are a small victory to be championed by those seeking justice on a more routine basis.
The cost, though, is still too much.
Jason Leskiw is SFBay’s Oakland Raiders beat writer and member of the Professional Football Writers of America. Follow @SFBay and @LeskiwSFBay on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of Raiders football.